By finishing seventh in the season-ending race at Lime Rock Park, Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series drivers’ championship for the third consecutive season and the fourth time in five years.
The Ganassi pair won two races (Road America and Montreal) and finished on the podium eight times in 12 races. But they were not as dominant as in years past, when they routinely won five or more races. This year, the team struggled to find the right balance between its BMW engine and the series’ new Riley bodywork. They also faced stiffer competition from a brace of new Corvette DP cars, which racked-up seven wins and handed Chevrolet the engine manufacturers’ title.
It was nice to end up in victory lane twice this year. So that was quite sweet.
“(This year) brought us to a new level. We were all challenged. All of the engineers. All of the guys back in the shop. All of the mechanics. We really had to dig deep with our experience, knowing that we didn’t have the best car at a lot of races this year. And we were trying to take a fifth-place or sixth-place car and get it up on the podium, which we did several times this year. I really liked that challenge. We were working all in unison. Everyone was digging in the same direction. And we were able to pull off things we didn’t think we could pull off all season long. It was nice to end up in victory lane twice this year. So that was quite sweet.”
Pruett now owns a record-setting five Daytona Prototype drivers’ titles and Rojas has four. The Ganassi team also won the team title and Riley the chassis manufacturers’ title.
Ryan Dalziel finished second in the standings, 12 points behind Pruett and Rojas. He won once (at the second Watkins Glen race) and finished on the podium six times for Peter Baron’s Starworks team. A seventh place at Indianapolis (thanks in part to a controversial encounter with Juan Montoya) and an eighth at Montreal created a deficit Dalziel could not overcome.
On the strength of a win at Indianapolis (with Sebastien Bourdais) and three podiums, Starworks’ Alex Popow ended up fifth in the standings – three points ahead of the SunTrust tandem of Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor, who won three times. “This team is truly incredible,” said SunTrust team owner Wayne Taylor. “We have had a year that I can’t even begin to describe how difficult it’s been for all of us. We haven’t always had the best car, but they’ve worked and worked and never gave up.”
Gainsco’s Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty finished eighth in the championship. They did not win a race, but recorded four poles and five podium finishes – a total that includes four second-place efforts. “It was tough going without a win this season but it wasn’t for lack of effort on the Gainsco guys’ part,” Fogarty said. “It was quite a strong end to the year, we had good pace, was able to secure quite a few pole positions and we did run up front. We just never quite put everything together, which is exactly what you have to do, you have to be perfect in order to win one of these. The competition is tough, it’s not like the wins are easy to come by, but that’s how it goes in racing sometimes.”
Richard Westbrook won three times, but also had two DNFs. The two DNFs relegated him to tenth in points. “I like to fight for championships rather than just fight for wins,” said Westbrook. “If you get one DNF in Grand-Am, you might as well not show up for the rest of the races. And that’s what happened to us twice. We’re the only team with a DNF and I think the penalty is too hard for a DNF. If you come last, you get 25 points on the road. If you get a DNF, you get zero. So you’re out of the hunt if you have a DNF.”
The hunt for the 2013 Rolex Series championship will commence on January 26th and 27th, 2013, with the 51st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. After Daytona, next year’s schedule includes new races at Road Atlanta, Circuit of the Americas, and Kansas Speedway, along with established events at Mid-Ohio, Watkins Glen, Road America, Lime Rock, Laguna Seca, Barber Motorsports Park, Detroit, and Indianapolis. The Road America round will be a doubleheader with the American Le Mans Series, which Grand-Am acquired in September 2012. The two series will run separate schedules in 2013, but will join forces in 2014 with an as-of-yet identified class structure and set of rules.
Story by: Pat Jennings